Ruth Reichl has better salsa

The former Gourmet editor lets us poke around in her refrigerator

Published November 30, 2009 8:01AM (EST)

Even after her decade-long tenure as editor of the now-shuttered Gourmet magazine (and as my boss), the Seattle Times named Ruth Reichl "the most influential food person in America." As the host of PBS's "Gourmet’s Adventures With Ruth," a former New York Times restaurant critic, and a former editor of the Los Angeles Times food section, she's had tremendous influence not just on how Americans think about food, but also directly on what they put on their tables. So we couldn’t have found a better person to kick off our new feature, "What’s in Your Fridge?"

When I spoke with Ruth, she’d spent only two days at her home in upstate New York — where she was preparing to write her next book — and had just stocked up. (When her husband is alone in the house, she told me, the fridge remains nearly empty, save for an inevitable jar of dressing.)

I’ll start off with the obvious question: What's in your fridge?

Well, I have two; a fridge and drawers for vegetables.

In the produce drawer, I have a whole bag of heirloom apples: Arkansas blacks and Knobbed Russets. Knobbed Russets are so amazing — the weirdest-looking apples on earth. They're warty but delicious, and they bake really well. There’re cranberries, lemons, limes, clementines, avocados…

Going into the vegetables, I’ve got lacinato kale, sage, scallions, celery…

Oh, we could go on for hours like this.

For condiments, I have two kinds of miso, three kinds of butter, sriracha, Durkee dressing, which my husband can’t live without, but I hate it. Apparently on the way west, the wagon trains carried this stuff. It’s like mustard and mayonnaise, but I’m not really a big mayo person.

Wait, what? This is shocking. This is big news! I'm breaking a story here.

[Laughs.] Among other things, I’ve got strawberry elderflower jam, which I made when I was doing the show at Blackberry Farm.

I thought you said you ate the last of it?

Well… I found another jar.

I also have three different kinds of bacon, a hunk of really good Parmigiano, and gallons of turkey stock that I made yesterday for Thanksgiving.

Stock already? Where did the bones come from?

I actually bought a turkey and used it for stock. I mean, gravy's the most important part, right?

What are all these leftovers?

Some pasta puttanesca. Michael made it for me when I came up the night before last. Michael doesn’t cook, so it was a very nice surprise. I got here, and dinner was here.

Mashed potatoes I made with local Yukon Golds, with lots of milk and more butter than I like to admit. I like to put the milk in first; I’m trying not to do the whole Bouchon thing, where you put in more butter than potatoes. I like the flavor of potatoes, and milk doesn’t mask it. You add enough milk to the point where the texture is right, and then add the butter till it tastes good. My way of making them changed completely when I got one of those great potato ricers — they just make these wonderful fluffy potatoes.

It drives me crazy that I don’t have a container of leftover rice up here. It’s my favorite go-to meal, fried rice.

Tonight, I'm making the sweet potato gnocchi from Gourmet's October issue. I really do make a lot of the recipes from the magazine at home. What we were trying to do was make you want to make those things, and it worked on me. [Laughs.] Oh, those gnocchi looked really good.

Do you go to the market with ideas in mind, or just go and let yourself be inspired?

I go with certain things in mind, but sometimes you see something better. For me, the shopping part is all part of the cooking. There’s a great cheese store here, so I munch my way through the cheese. And I end up buying something and thinking, "Oh, I have to do something with this." It’s always a good idea to go with something in mind in case nothing inspires you, but be ready to switch at a moment’s notice.

What food items do you always keep around?

We always have Durkee dressing.

You never know if you have to make dinner in a flash; I always have bacon, eggs and pasta, so I can always make pasta carbonara. Cans of black beans, cans of good tomatoes, because that’s the other go-to, you know? Tomato sauce for pasta.

But lately, I’ve been buying frozen banana leaves; you can wrap anything up in them. They're beautiful and cheap, and they use them in so many parts of the world. Wrap anything up in them and they suddenly look exotic. You run them over the flame a little bit, and they do this wonderful thing where they get all glossy, and you get this vegetal flavor that’s really nice.

Is there anything that you’re embarrassed to have in there?

Oh yeah. There’s a lot of stuff that Michael likes that I’m not proud of having. Hot dogs and buns. I do like hot dogs, but they're outdoor food; they’re not home food. Cans of Campbell's tomato soup, because they are his ultimate comfort food.

Oh, and hiding behind that Old El Paso is better salsa!

By Francis Lam

Francis Lam is Features Editor at Gilt Taste, provides color commentary for the Cooking Channel show Food(ography), and tweets at @francis_lam.

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